Disabled Scots: Invisible Collateral Damage

disabled_for_yes_for_print001In a week where it was announced that thousands of people with degenerative conditions were being classified as ‘fit to work in future’ – despite no possibility of improvement – and in which Lord Freud, a minister in the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, declared that disabled people are “not worth the full wage”Jamie Szymkowiak writes on austerity, welfare and disability.

My disability is arthrogryposis multiplex congenita – which to you and I means permanent stiffness in the joints. Like every disability, the degree in which it impacts on my life differs from someone who may have the same condition. Spiral staircases, cobbled streets and reaching my own right foot are my everyday nemesis but for other people it may be filling out an application form, preparing their breakfast, going to the bathroom unaided or leaving their own home.

During the referendum campaign, people with disabilities became a homogeneous group often spoken about in the quest for social justice yet themselves received little media exposure; an issue that faced the group “Disabled People 4 Yes” – ironically due to the lack of a No equivalent and the BBC’s apparent need for neutrality. It was for this reason, I felt compelled to climb the stairs in the tenements of Craigmillar and pound the crazy paving that line the lawns of Trinity for a Scotland away from Westminster austerity for those who, like my youngest brother who has Downs Syndrome, could not.

Alas, the majority of voters opted for the Union thus leaving some of the most vulnerable in our society facing a Government which includes a welfare minister who suggests that workers with disabilities are not worth the minimum wage or an Opposition that fails to offer an alternative vision to Austerity Britain.

Over the last few years, people with disabilities have faced the implementation of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as well as housing benefit cuts such as the “bedroom tax.”

The awful impact of the degrading Work Capability Assessments has been well documented but the rumoured replacement of ATOS by American private firm MAXIMUS has heightened concerns even further and led disabled rights activist John McArdle of the Black Triangle Campaign to describe it is “a simple case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Whoever the contractor is, you simply cannot get away from the fact that any form of tick-box assessment by non-medical professionals is ludicrous, demeaning and causes more work via numerous appeals that only increases the stress and uncertainty of the person seeking support.

Most people accept that welfare reform is needed but surely this can be achieved in a dignified and uncomplicated manner that creates a benefits system to support those most in need?

On this, Susie Fitton, Senior Policy Adviser for Capability Scotland, says:

We have grave concerns that the UK Government austerity agenda is the current driver to reforms. This is generating a climate of fear amongst disabled people in Scotland, who are more likely to be living in poverty and in receipt of benefits. We are particularly concerned that the UK Government’s Welfare Reform programme will ultimately reverse the trend of declining poverty amongst households that include a disabled person and create or exacerbate vulnerability, particularly for families that include disabled people with multiple and complex needs.”

We know that the Conservatives have pledged a two year freeze on benefits which in real terms equates to a £3bn a year cut from the welfare budget but this only forms a small part of the expected £12bn to be cut in the two years post 2015 UK General Election. When they can remember the budget, Labour has offered very little hope for the people of Scotland with disabilities as they have already announced plans to stick with the Tory/LibDem austerity agenda. What we don’t know is how detrimental the long lasting consequences of such cuts will be and to what extent they will harm the lives of those already in desperate situations. Westminster’s austerity programme and their ferocious reforms have done nothing but further isolate some of the most vulnerable amongst us and led the UK to become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations.

There are alternatives to austerity. We could do more to chase big tax-avoiding corporations, we could invest more in green and social infrastructure which will create jobs and therefore taxation, a more progressive tax system would ensure a fairer distribution of wealth and a move to localisation of public services would ensure genuine needs are met in a far more inclusive manner.

It remains, however, that our immediate options are limited and this winter, people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities will be presented with tough choices when balancing their household budget as they face increased heating bills, additional laundry and clothing costs, taxi fares, care costs and therapy charges. Disability is a fact of life and to deny the fullest possible care and support is cruel.

Disabilities are wide ranging and each one individual with specific needs. Some are from birth, some result from accidents or military action and some come from age. Some people need very little or no assistance and some need full time permanent care. It’s obvious that benefit cuts are being justified by a media discourse that portrays disabled people as scroungers and it is important to remember that the uniqueness of various disabilities make it difficult for such a diverse group of people to mobilise to hold the Government to account. The independence referendum campaign gave so many people a glimpse that another Scotland is possible – we must continue to strive for this and not allow disabled Scots to become invisible collateral damage.

Comments (12)

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  1. annie says:

    A couple of quotes from a book I am reading at the moment, The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu. Chapter 1, Tempering the Great Depression, page 3 “To try to meet Cameron’s targets, the DWP hired Atos, a private French “systems integration firm. Atos billed the government £400 million to carry out medical evaluations of people receiving disability benefits.
    Page 4 – “The DWP, after all, considered cheating a relatively minor issue. The total sum of disability fraud for ‘conditions of entitlement ‘ was £2 million . . .the Department estimated that far greater harm resulted from the accidental underpayment of £70 million each year.”
    I had to read this a few times to actually believe what I was reading. It beggars comprehension and defies all logic.

  2. John laird says:

    I am with disabilities some damage to the brain I think it’s disgusting what the Westminster government is doing to the people with disabilities and penchiners

  3. I am horrified at the depths Westminster will stoop to. Heartless isn’t in it. Don’t worry though it’s only a matter of time, so hang on in there and together we will make sure we do elect people who know what they are supposed to be doing and who won’t be allowed to dictate again.

  4. Annette says:

    I have contacted my MP, Anne McGuire, (SLAB) with an urgent request that she should push for the sacking of “Lord” Freud. This was by e-mail on the 17th of October. No reply yet. Tells you all you need to know.

  5. arthur thomson says:

    Sadly none of the British political parties has any genuine interest in creating a decent society. I can only say support the Yes parties in every way you can and together we can make a better life for those of us who inevitably lose out in the British rat race.

  6. My husband is Flemish, and though he is married to me and living in Scotland with me, he still receives his Disability benefit from Belgium. And good job he does. Due to his benefit being two whole pounds over what our government would give him for the same benefit, we have been told this disqualifies us from claiming things like council tax and housing benefit. In fact here, his benefit is not recognised as a benefit because in Belgium they call it a “pension” (but meaning a benefit, that is all) so here they treat it as, wait for it…savings…
    The benefit he receives from there is not means tested. Although they do evaluate claimants they do not treat them like a piece of dirt on the bottom of their shoes like they do here (now he lives here he goes through the Atos fiasco of course) and he is horrified at the way disabled people are treated in Scotland. I know folks with terminal, permanent disabilities who have been told they are “fit for work” though what kind of work someone who can barely move or who is in permanent, crippling pain can do is beyond me.
    Essentially, it is my belief that the English government wants the sick, the disabled, the jobless, to go away and die off. That would suit them down to the ground. I will never understand why Scotland simply does not declare UDI and take our country back. What is it about us that means we are subjecting the most vulnerable in our society to this attitude and harm?

    1. jay says:

      You would have to ask the 55% that voted NO and wanted to remain part of the Westminster system that demeans and divides people in this way. Either they don’t care or believed the NO campaign lies.

      The fact is a democratic election produced a 10.5% majority in favour of staying with the UK. What sticks in the craw for most Yes supporters was the sudden offer of extra powers near the end of the campaign. It was supposed to be a simple YES or NO, nothing to do with extra powers.

      Where do we go from here?

      Education and make people know that if they voted NO, then that vote was for the discrimination and bullying of vulnerable individuals, the unemployed, the sick and disabled and also the low paid to continue. In effect a Green light to carry on with their destructive policies in creating a more divided and socially unjust society.

      Propaganda needs to be dealt with at every opportunity and those that propagate these poisonous and callous beliefs have to be called out on it and put in their place with the truth.

  7. John laird says:

    I am one of those disabled people with disabilities though child birth I didn’t as to be with disabilities the government can’t get away with treating the disabled people of the uk

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